Before I launch into the low down on gluten, I really need to explain a little about the gut. For most of us the gut is a mystery, food goes in one end and comes out the other, but the gut is much more than a nutrient processing station. In fact, our gut health is thought to be associated with almost every health condition including depression, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, autism and the list goes on. The gut is actually a sensitive organ that has more nerves than the rest of the peripheral nervous system. In addition, the gut is part of the immune system and makes more immunological decisions in one day than the rest of the immune system in a lifetime, hard to believe I know. A large proportion of the Australian population suffer from gut and digestive problems and many have been diagnosed with “leaky gut syndrome”.
Leaky gut – what does it really mean?
Leaky gut, is not taught in mainstream medicine and from a scientific perspective is a grey area, but more and more Australians are being diagnosed with this condition based on a number of gut symptoms. These symptoms include bloating, gas, cramps, food sensitivities, and aches and pains. In alternative medicine, the proposed medical condition is caused by substances migrating outwards through the gut wall. Our gut wall is an important barrier that protects our gut and controls what can pass through into our bloodstream. When this barrier is weakened (or “leaky”), things pass through the wall that should not such as break down products from gluten. It is thought that this promotes an immune reaction leading to mild to severe gut symptoms and potentially severe health conditions.
Why is gluten such a big problem?
Gluten is a relatively new protein for humans as it has only been part of our diet since agriculture began 10,000 years ago. This may sound like a long time, but in evolutionary terms it is not. Gluten cannot be completely digested in humans and breaks down to a product called Gliadin. Gliadin aggravates our gut, immune system and can be toxic to our cells. So, gluten is actually not good for any of us. The difference is some people can tolerate it and others can’t. The immune system is thought to be the factor that allows for this difference in tolerance. For those who experience gut symptoms after eating gluten the answer is simple, avoid gluten. The large increase in gluten free foods in our supermarkets, cafes and health food shops clearly shows that the demand for gluten free products. However, don’t forget to read nutrition labels because many supermarket gluten free foods are packed with sugar, even the supermarket gluten free breads have sugar in them.
The good news is that if you have been diagnosed with leaky gut avoiding gluten can help restore your gut health. If you do eliminate gluten from your diet and still experience gut problems you may have other food sensitivities such as dairy or sugar, which I will explain in the next blog.
Dr D J
Dr Denise Furness, PhD BSc RNut REP
Registered Nutritionist & Personal Trainer with Mill Park Leisure
Acknowledgment: Much of the gut health information in this blog was obtained during the “Clinical advances in the treatment of digestive disorders” Seminar October-November 2013, Metagenics, Melbourne.